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Does Social Media in the Classroom Help, or Distract?

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Social media is so prevalent, but is it really effective in enhancing learning in an academic setting?

The Huffington Post reports that social media use in education increased by 21.3 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to Pearson's Learning Solutions. The same survey found that 59 percent of education affiliates subscribe to the effectiveness of interactive electronic learning via social media.

A 2009 online survey of K-12 principals, teachers and school librarians found that librarians used social media the most and saw the highest value in its utilization. The value was seen in creating professional learning communities, peer networking and enhancing school-wide communications. The majority of principals believed social networking to be very valuable and saw the positives of using social media to create collaborative learning communities, improve communications among staff, students, and parents and share information and resources with an extended community of educators.

Social networking applications can aid in teaching across the curriculum, permit and encourage learning outside of school hours, enhance and facilitate communication between students, teachers and parents, and nurture the development of digital citizenship skills.

The difficulty of utilizing social media in education lies in the variety of social media resources available. With so many of them, it is difficult to pinpoint which will be the most effective to incorporate into curriculum. Blogs/wikis, podcasts, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are the main sources used in education, with blogs/wikis being identified as the most useful social media tool. Students are able to enhance learning by creating, adding comments, reading and by watching and listening to content in electronic format.

There is also the comfort issue with students. These digital natives are used to social media in other areas of life -- so using it in the classroom comes easily. For kids who struggle with traditional means of learning, social media incorporation can spark more interest and get them involved in the learning process. There's also a danger of distracting from the lesson at hand though. On typical social media sites, there is a lot that can distract students.

Increasingly, there are answers to that distraction problem, though. The higher adoption of social media use within the classroom has resulted in the rise of social network apps designed specifically for educators. These apps allow teachers to easily distribute course information, provide a place for students to upload assignments and feature a community chat forum for students and educators to communicate freely. It's a safe social media space that combines the interactivity of what students and teachers love, without all of those extra distractions. 

Like any classroom trend, social media use will have its highs and lows. Savvy educators, from preschool through college, will find smart ways to implement social media in their lessons to give it the biggest splash.

Have you successfully incorporated social media use into your classroom? What tactics work and what ones do you avoid?

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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